Citizens from Pleasure Island communities congregated at a recent ALDOT meeting to discuss a proposed bridge project.
ALDOT presented two options to the standing-room only crowd. The first was the original bridge proposal, which would see another span over the Intracoastal Waterway which feeds into a roundabout on Canal Road and begins at a flyover next to Craft Farms. The other option would see traffic diverted with a roundabout just south of the gas station on Foley Beach Express in Orange Beach. This alternate came in response to many residents of Craft Farms concerned with the noise potential privacy invasions the flyover option would bring.
Many citizens and public officials spoke in favor of the bridge project in general. Most public officials cited concerns of effective and efficient hurricane evacuations, especially after seeing the devastation of Hurricane Michael.
Gulf Shores Public Works Director Mark Acreman focused his comments to the ALDOT representatives on safety.
“The Holmes Bridge is nearly 50 years old,” Acreman said. “At some point, it will need to be replaced in the near future. We recorded nearly 11 million cars going over that bridge in 2017. Approximately 22 percent of the traffic over the ICW bridge is destined for Orange Beach based on a destination study performed by the Gulf State Park just recently. This bridge is the lifeblood of our community as is the Foley Beach Express. We only have two bridges on and off this island.”
Acreman cited incidents where vessels collided with the pillars of the bridges over the last five years and the disruption those events caused.
“In 2004, during Hurricane Ivan, a 397-foot barge broke loose from its moorings and slammed into LuLu’s and then into the protective barriers of the Holmes Bridge,” Acreman said. “The bearings held, but they were damaged and had to be prepared and inspected. Again, July 7, 20014, a barge struck the Foley Beach Express bridge. It was closed for over 24 hours as it was being inspected. We have to have more bridges on this island. It’s imperative. It’s dangerous without them, and our first responders cannot get on or off this bridge in the event of an emergency.”
A few spoke in opposition of the project. Joe Emerson, leader of the group and Facebook page Bridge2Nowhere, said the money is better used elsewhere.
““Our traffic problems in and around this area can be vastly improved by one build alone, a
project that has been in the conception phase for over a decade,” Emerson said. “I recognize we desperately need a cross-island corridor.”
He has repeatedly used the argument of a cross-island corridor as a point against the bridge project. An agreement with the Gulf Resource Council settling a lawsuit about funding for the Gulf State Park Lodge would allow for improvements on existing roads, but no new roads built through the park for 20 years.
A road currently exists through the park, Powerline Road, which was the original north/ south road to Romar Beach. Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon has argued in the past that Powerline Road isn’t an option as the state doesn’t recognize it as a road. At the ALDOT meeting, a recent announcement of the Gulf State Park golf course closing had his hopes up for another option.
The bridge’s south footing would be within a few thousand yards of the golf course and an existing road, State Park Road 2.
“We may now get our road through the state park,” Kennon said. “We could go across the golf course to State Road 2, an existing roadway and go straight to the beach. Now, how much sense would that bridge make? Come right off that bridge and boom, boom, you’re on the beach, no more traffic on Canal Road. It is the perfect solution.”
Citizens in support of the bridge were the most vocal group of the night. Many were hesitant to show unconditional approval, as concerns of the options were rampant. Orange Beach resident Bill Jeffries said one of the most important considerations was the amount of growth the island communities have seen.
“I’ve been on the planning commission in Orange Beach and during yesterday’s meeting the question was asked and this is not an uncommon question to us at all,” Jeffries said. “With all the building, when are we going to do something about infrastructure? We have no control over the roads in Orange Beach. They are state of Alabama owned. Gentlemen, Orange Beach needs this bridge.”